By Aycha Williams
Whether or not you’ve ever performed collections calls, you’ll probably agree that calling a customer to ask for money doesn’t appear at the top of most people's list of favorite things to do. According to an article published last year by credit-to-cash-advisor.com, collection calls even fall at the end of the to-do lists of most credit departments. They take most people out of their comfort zone, as callers fear embarrassment or failure in the process.
The good news is making effective collections calls is a skill self-storage managers can develop. You need to be able to anticipate the different answers customers may give as excuses and be ready to control the conversation for a final push toward a payment commitment. You can take the sting out of this important endeavor and find greater success by following this nine-step process.
Step 1: Start Right
With all new customers, thinking ahead is important. Whenever you have a move-in, there are two collections-related topics to cover. First, explain the late-fee structure in detail. Ensuring customers understand the consequences in advance will help decrease the number of collections calls to be made. In our company, storage rent is due on the first day of the month and can be paid until the fifth. We tell customers those four days are their grace period. On the sixth day, the first late fee will apply, and there are no exceptions.
The second way to start off collections on the right foot is to offer customers an incentive to sign up for auto-pay. Imagine if 30 percent more of your customers elected to make payments automatically. Those are guaranteed payments you don't have to worry about! One of the successful promotions we’ve run is waiving the $15 administrative fee for new customers who agree to sign up for auto-pay.
Step 2: Be Consistent
Two of our storage managers in Orlando, Fla., told me that when collections procedures are applied in a uniform manner to all customers and by all employees, it dramatically decreases late payments. It’s very important that your team be consistent in refusing partial payments, enforcing late fees and blocking access to storage units until payments are current.
If managers are reluctant to bend the rules, customers will learn this very quickly. Making the owner’s collections policy clear and following related rules as a team will help decrease collections since most tenants want to avoid late fees at all costs.
Step 3: Collect E-mails
Our managers never tire of collecting e-mail addresses from tenants. These have another great use aside from marketing in that they can be used to prepare customers for the upcoming month’s rent! By asking for e-mail addresses and compiling the data, managers are able to send mass “rent due” reminder e-mails a few days before the due date. They also send late-payment notices via e-mail once an account becomes delinquent. Some people are busy or forgetful and respond well to an e-mail reminder.
It’s also important to sort customer-contact lists to make note of tenants for whom you don’t have e-mail addresses. This will enable you to call late-paying tenants and remind them about upcoming payments.
Step 4: Schedule Frequency
Scheduling days to make collections calls and calling early and often are keys to reaching customers. Ensuring contact in some manner will leave tenants without an excuse for missing the payment date. For example, you can say, “I have left two voicemails and sent three e-mails about the payment reminder.”
Our company practice is to call twice before and after the late due date and send one e-mail before and after the date as well. The final call comes before the month ends as a last chance to bring the account up to date.
Step 5: Be Professional and Helpful
Watch yourself closely during collections calls. Speaking slowly, enunciating, using a lower-pitched voice and pausing often will convey professionalism to your tenants. Don’t forget to be friendly in the process. Our managers tell us it makes a big difference when they put themselves in the customer's shoes.